Education Product updates

Mote for Google Forms 2.0

We’re announcing a major update to our Google Forms integration, and I’m super excited to be sharing the details with you all.

First, a bit of history. We started to receive requests to integrate Mote with Google Forms all the way back in May 2020, but due to competing priorities it wasn’t until April of this year that we completed our phase of integration.

Based on the requests received from our users, we decided to start by supporting two ways to incorporate Mote within Google Forms:

  1. Audio descriptions: e.g. for educators to add voice as an accommodation or as part of a language learning assessment
  2. Audio answers: e.g. for students to create voice responses in language assessments.

Today, we’re excited to introduce you to “Mote for Google Forms v2.0”, with three great new features available with Mote extension version

  1. Multiple choice answer options
  2. Quiz mode: immediate feedback
  3. Quiz Mode: individual feedback  

Read on to learn more about each of these new integrations!

Multiple choice answer options 

You can now include a Mote voice note, alongside a text label, within Google Forms multiple choice questions:

Record audio with the ‘motepad’ and add to your multiple-choice options

To record these options, just use the ‘Motepad’ recorder within the Mote browser extension, and then paste your mote links into the multiple-choice options. Students with the Mote extension installed will see both the text label and the Mote audio player.

Students will see both the mote audio and the text description

Quiz mode: immediate feedback 

You can now leave ‘immediate’ voice feedback for both correct and incorrect answers. Start by ensuring that you have checked ‘Immediately’ in the Settings Tab.

Then, within your Form’s question ‘Answer Key’, just add voice feedback (alongside optional text) to either/both the Correct and Incorrect answers.

Students with the Mote extension installed will see both the text label and a playable mote card.

Quiz Mode: individual feedback

To leave individual voice feedback for each student, first select the option to release marks after manual review.

Then, when you receive your student’s response, you can record your mote from the ‘Add feedback’ dialog box:

You can add both typed and voice feedback – students will be able to see both. 

We really look forward to seeing how you use these Google Forms integrations, and to hearing more ideas for voice-powered teaching. Keep on moting!

Product updates Technology

Release notes / motes

This page is updated to announce all feature and product launches, with links to other resources with more details.

August 2021

  • New range of mote reactions:
  • Pause recording in Google Classroom
  • Pause recording in Google Slides
  • Extension and iOS app localization into Chinese, French and other languages. Find out how to switch your language.

July 2021

  • iOS app v1.0
  • New pricing page and quote generator

June 2021

  • Localization of Mote extension into multiple languages, including Italian and Spanish.
  • Improvement to Google Slides – all motes added to a ‘Mote audio’ folder

May 2021

  • Sticky motes‘ feature launched
  • Share to Google Classroom feature launched

Startup life Technology

We made it from zero to one – now we have help to get from one to ten.

Our reflections on ‘zero to one’ and announcing help we’re getting to go from ‘one to ten’

Getting from 1 to 10. Photo credit: Jon Tyson, from

Going from zero to one means bringing something entirely new into existence, and being lucky – or far-sighted – enough to have created something that a lot of people find useful enough to use and to share with friends.

Going from one to ten means taking that early success and figuring out to make it relevant and exciting for a much bigger group of people. It means identifying and fixing the ‘break points’ in the current product, and it means scaling the energy of the founding team to a much larger organization.

Today, I’m reflecting on our own ‘zero to one’ journey – in our case that’s getting to the symbolic one million weekly user milestone on the one year anniversary of our product launch. And we’re also announcing and celebrating a new partnership that will help us get from one to ten.

Mote from zero to one

In January 2020, Alex and I started work on the project that became Mote. By the time we launched Mote just over one year ago today, the World was gripped by the first wave of the Covid 19 pandemic, and we wondered just what this meant for our nascent startup.

We’ve been lucky – we got quite a few things right with our initial product idea, and we’ve been blessed with a fantastic community of users who shared their ideas for improving our product.

We’ve been frugal – we were largely self-sufficient for the first six months, and we only started paying ourselves once we started generating a meaningful amount of revenue, in September.

And, as we grew our revenue from sales, we were also able to hire brilliant team members with energy and expertise that complemented our own.

In getting from zero to one, we continued to refine our idea of what 10 or 100 might look like. In our case, we kept coming back to the key insight – Mote makes it easier to talk instead of type, and our users really like this. To get from one to ten, we will need to find more people, places and ‘jobs to be done’ where talking can be faster, better and more enjoyable than typing.

Mote from one to ten…and beyond!

Alex and I have always been confident that Mote has potential to become more than ‘just a feature’, that we are building something with real significance, however I’ve not always been very good at explaining this vision. That matters, because explaining the vision is really important in bringing brilliant people to work with us at Mote.

Telling the story and painting the bigger picture is also essential to attract the kinds of investors who are experienced at helping startups make the leap from one to ten. Today, I’m really excited to be announcing that we have secured partnership and investment from Craft Ventures, a top tier Venture Capital firm that believes in our mission, with a team that brings decades of experience in building startups through this phase of their growth.

With the funding we have received, we will be investing in growing our team and increasing our expertise to better serve the needs of our community. The funding gives us the additional capacity to address both the immediate top priorities of users and partners, as well as the longer term priorities that will help us meet the needs of both current and future users of Mote.

Some of the things we’ll be working on include…

  • Bringing a better Mote experience to mobile and tablet devices – starting with iOS
  • Integrating Mote into more products and ecosystems – starting with Microsoft
  • Better understanding and addressing ways to make Mote more useful every working day

For our users and customers, this means you’ve got a stronger partner in Mote – we have the resources to invest in serving you better than ever. We wouldn’t be here without the trust and kindness you’ve shown us so far, and we will be working very hard to win your continued support.

Most importantly, for our amazing team members, friends and early supporters, this investment is validation of the faith you placed in Mote and in its founders. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for taking the leap and for giving so much of your time and energy to this project – onwards! 🚀🌔✨

Education Feedback Technology

Wanna get some feedback on your feedback?

Think back to the last time you gave someone feedback – in person, on video chat, on a document or assignment. How did it go? Did they thank you? And most importantly, did anything change?

Here at Mote, we’re obsessed with these questions, because we believe they hold the key to unlocking more – and better – feedback. And this matters, because feedback is the essential ingredient in all learning. But don’t just take our world for it. According to the Education Endowment Foundation,

“Feedback studies tend to show very high effects on learning.”

Education Endowment Foundation

World-class companies like Netflix make continuous feedback a cornerstone of their culture:

” Feedback is a continuous part of how we communicate and work with one another versus an occasional formal exercise.”

Netflix Culture Statement

Yet the challenges of feedback cannot be overlooked. In that same EEF study, the conclusions include the finding that:

Providing effective feedback is challenging…it is likely to require sustained professional development to improve practice, and this includes active inquiry and evaluation. 

Education Endowment Foundation

While for Netflix, former employees have reported that feedback “‘…can be intense and awkward”, and that “the pressure to give and receive feedback was ‘the hardest part about the culture.”

Picture credit Christina @ via Unsplash

Fix feedback…with feedback?

Recognizing that feedback is both really important and really hard, here at Mote we’re working on tools that make it easier to give and receive better feedback. And while we started with a focus on improving the medium of feedback, we know it’s also essential to help improve the message, which starts with helping feedback creators to better understand what’s working.

We’ve just released a major update that makes it easier for users to track the engagement that their mote feedback has received. Feedback creators can see – and hear – all of the feedback that they’ve left on their Activity feed, and can filter this by whether it’s been ‘moticed‘, as well as by the recipient, the assignment and class. Recipients leave emoji reactions on feedback, which also helps feedback creators to understand what’s clear and actionable for recipients, and what’s not working quite so well.

It’s a step towards our vision of a world that learns faster through feedback, one with all the benefits of feedback – authentic human connection, faster, more personalized learning – with none of the downsides. If you’re excited about that vision, then please hit ‘follow’, drop us a line, or try mote for yourself.

Education Feedback Technology

A mote 💜 letter to STEM teachers

Credit: @Chromatograph on Unsplash

Dear Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics teachers,

Thank you for training the next generation of inventors and builders, for giving your students a problem solving toolkit they can apply wherever life takes them, and for your tireless creativity in finding new ways to teach your students during a pandemic.

STEM mode is for you

As a little token of admiration and appreciation for STEM teachers, we’ve just launched a new feature for Mote that we call ‘STEM mode’.

With this new feature enabled, you can choose to have mathematical expressions and chemical compounds formatted and rendered beautifully within your document comments and on our website landing pages.

To learn more about using STEM mode, check out our support article.

How it works

In order to detect STEM expressions within transcripts, we iterate through the text of a transcript and build a potential expression when we land on language that may be related to Math or Chemistry. Language that might qualify for a potential expression includes numbers, variables, functions, math operations, or letters in elements. We also consider homophones of STEM-related language, to ensure that errors in voice transcription do not lead to us missing STEM expressions. This means that an incorrect voice transcription like “why equals sign x” and “see oh 2” can still be formatted as “ y = sin x ” and “CO2”.

For potential Math expressions, we ensure that we only format expressions which are logical, meaning we don’t leave functions or math operations hanging. This helps avoid false positives, making sure that statements like “This is good, plus I think it’s a sign of improvement” aren’t reformatted to “This is good, + i think it’s a sin of improvement”, even though the plus sign, “I”, “sign”, and “a” could be interpreted as potential Mathematical language by themselves. False positives proved to be one of the larger challenges in evaluating STEM, as many words for Mathematical processes can be used in other contexts.

Evaluating Chemistry expressions involves determining whether a sequence of letters and numbers could feasibly represent a chemical compound. Iterating through a potential Chemistry expression, we have to make sure that each letter either represents an element in the periodic table by itself or represents an element when joined with the letter directly preceding/following it. If this rule is broken, then the potential chemical compound will not be formatted, as it is not composed solely of element abbreviations and numbers. However, there are still unclear cases where a piece of text could be either a combination of element abbreviations or a single word. In order to decide ambiguous cases, we search to see if the rest of the Mote contains any chemistry-related language such as “atoms”, “ions”, or “covalence. Depending on what we find (or don’t find), we are then able to make a more reasonable conclusion as to whether you’re referencing Colorado or carbon monoxide when you say “CO”.

With the evaluation of potential STEM statements finished, formatting accepted expressions presents its own set of challenges. For Math expressions, the symbols involved equations typically follow the same order as the words representing them, meaning an equation like “y=ax+b” is read aloud in the same order it is written. However, when inverting or applying derivatives to functions, this order is often mixed around. For example, one might say “y equals inverse sin x plus the derivative of f of x” for the equation “ y=sin-1x + f'(x) ”, where we can see that the “inverse” and “derivative” might be spoken before the functions they apply to, but the symbols for each are written after the functions they apply to. This means that formatting Mathematical statements is not a simple manner of replacement, but rather requires consideration for the role of a Mathematical symbol within an expression. Chemistry expressions are easier to format, as we only need to ensure that letters are capitalized if they are the first (or only) letter in an element’s abbreviation and that any numbers occurring after letters are turned into subscripts.

With the STEM expression fully formatted, it is inserted back into our representation of the transcript, with identifiers that will allow it to be rendered properly by the Mote Chrome Extension. In terms of the user experience, we decided to have STEM mode be a setting that a user can toggle on or off for individual Motes. This allows users to choose between the classic Mote text representation of transcripts and the new STEM Mode version with STEM expressions rendered using AsciiMath in conjunction with our React.js frontend.

To enable STEM expressions to be rendered and edited in our ‘Editor’ view we replaced the existing HTML textarea with a contenteditable <div> that contains both MathJax strings and editable text. The STEM expressions are separately editable only when selected, in a separate editing pane, and using the AsciiMath syntax. We’re pleased with how cleanly this seems to have solved for the need to edit both plain text and STEM expressions in one UX.

And that’s it! We hope that STEM mode proves to be a clean and elegant solution for your feedback!

This post was co-authored with mote’s own Chris Skokowski, Alex Nunes and Emir Mehić.

Startup life Technology

In defense of time together

As a passionately remote-first company, I’m occasionally caught in the apparent paradox of having to explain why spending some percentage of our time together in the same location is a necessary part of Mote’s operating model. In fact, it’s so important that my relocation to Europe this Summer was partly motivated by a strong sense that our company’s future depended on Alex and I being free to spend at least some percentage of time together, free from the spectre of enforced two-week quarantines.

Anyhow, this week Alex and I have been able to spend quality time together, working on a business-critical product release, planning out the next few months, and taking stock of our progress. And coincidentally all of this has been against a backdrop of beautiful Greek countryside, many shared meals and more than a few shared drinks.

So, why is time together so essential for high-functioning remote teams? Here’s my take:

  1. In startups, you tend to be working very hard towards a highly uncertain and amorphous goal. Success depends on founders’ – and early employees’ – ability to convince one another that this goal is attainable and highly desirable. Time together is a way to mutually re-commit to the mission and journey.
  2. Sustained periods of high-intensity work will cause unintended stresses and strains on any relationship. This is true both at home and amongst work colleagues, and both sets of stakeholders deserve a level of reinvestment.
  3. Some tasks really are much easier to undertake while colocated. Really complex or novel product specification, quickly iterating on user journeys and priorities…

Feedback Startup life

One million motes this month…

Yesterday I noticed that we’ve now passed a delightful new milestone – our users have created one million voice notes (‘motes’) using our product Mote so far in September. By contrast, we saw 392,000 voice notes created in August and 711,000 created in May – our highest previous month. In this post I wanted to disaggregate what’s driving our growth.

44,000 mote creators

The great majority of our mote creators are educators. They tell us that they love using Mote because it makes delivering feedback really fast – because they speak faster than they type, and because Mote integrates seamlessly into their workflow tools- and friendly, because students appreciate hearing their voice and seam to be more likely to respond and action verbal feedback.

7,350 hours of mote voice comments recorded

The average voice note is about 25 seconds, so we’ve seen over 7,000 hours of voice notes recorded so far this month.

315,000 mote listeners

The great majority of people listening to mote comments are students, accessing their teachers’ feedback either within their homework assignments (e.g. Google Docs or Google Classroom), or on our website. While the US leads with over 240,000 unique listeners, we have had mote listeners in 152 countries worldwide so far this month. We’ve invested heavily in student data privacy and security measures to win the trust of schools, teachers and students, so we’re really happy to see this level of engagement.

Scalable Tech

I feel it’s important to acknowledge that this kind of growth would only be possible with a scalable technology platform, and we’ve been very lucky to have integrated a set of highly scalable technologies. Co-founder CTO Alex will be writing a blog post on this topic very soon…

Thanks for reading!


Mote Technology

Article coming soon!

Startup life

The future happened suddenly: how COVID19 has accelerated the future of work, entertainment and…

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Video conferencing, Slack, video streaming and app-based fitness: all were growing prior to the global Covid-19 pandemic, and were destined to be part of the future of work, entertainment and wellness. But this pandemic has created an unprecedented, irrevocable acceleration of trends that will now shape how we work and live for the next decade and beyond. Welcome to the accelerated future.

Accelerating the future of work

Over the past two years, there’s been a consistent trend in the startup landscape: no one has offices anymore. Startups are highly motivated to spend their cash wisely, and in cities like San Francisco and New York the cost of office space forced a re-think of the need for teams to co-locate in order to collaborate. VCs, meanwhile, have seen a growing number of successful globally distributed companies such as Automattic and GitLab, and had bought into distributed work as the new orthodoxy.

My own startup, mote, is a small, remote team, and we’ve been focused on creating tools for a future workplace that is largely remote and asynchronous. Without the Covid-19 pandemic, I believe that this future of work would have emerged slowly as more and more new companies proved that this model could deliver better results for employees, customers and investors. However, now I believe that we have seen 10 years of social workplace change condensed into 30 days.

Over the coming months, offices will reopen, campus canteens will once again hum to the sounds of artisanal pizza ovens, but the writing is on the wall. We’ll quickly see big companies relaxing their policies for remote work, actively incentivizing employees to work from home and closing satellite offices. We’ll see mid-sized companies walking away from their leases, and we’ll see small fast-growth, ‘natively distributed’ companies increasingly out-execute larger, older companies tied to their real estate footprints.

Accelerating the future of entertainment

I hope and believe that theaters, music venues and movie theaters will re-open after pandemic restrictions are removed. But I believe that anybody working in the entertainment industry will have to take seriously the risks of future disruption, and will have to build greater resilience into their craft. In the case of artists and performers, that will include providing for new ways to monetize fans / supporters directly through digital channels such as Twitch or StageIt. I’d love to see the world’s leading arts and culture festivals fully committing to building paid digital experiences, building a global audience for culture in the same way the Guardian and the BBC have built global audiences for news.

Accelerating the future of wellness

Home workout experiences date back at least to Jane Fonda’s iconic fitness videos in the 1980s; outdoor cycling has been growing at around 6% per annum in recent years; and, over the past few years, an abundance of meditation and mindfulness apps has enabled us to work independently on our mental health.

But the pandemic has suddenly introduced many millions more people to the habit of using digital wellness tools and resources. These habits will prove hard to shake. We can expect to see many local and national health & fitness brands going into administration as a result of the pandemic, though I hope we’ll also see innovation in the sector and the emergence of more wellness models that blend group & individual, physical & digital.

Winners and losers

In the face of the human trauma that this pandemic will wreak, it is ghoulish and insensitive to talk about ‘silver linings’ or ‘growth opportunities’ that the pandemic creates. However, the optimistic outlook is that this terrible period will result in some changes that will leave our planet better able to address the slow-burning climate crisis, and to build more resilience into our public and private infrastructure.

There will be winners in the arenas of work, entertainment and wellness. Hopefully not just the familiar tech giant players of today, but also a new breed of private and public organizations that can help the human race rethink how we work, play and create together with greater sustainability and resilience.


Feedback loops — the most powerful force in the universe

(Originally written for Medium in Feb 2020)

Learning to write code has taught me a life-changing lesson about why fast feedback accelerates how and what we can learn.

Photo by Jossuha Théophile on Unsplash

Let me start by saying that until 12 months ago I hadn’t written a line of computer code since dabbling with HTML in the late 1990s.

But over the past year, out of necessity, I have built up a working knowledge of HTML, CSS, SQL and Python, plus a little bit of Javascript and SwiftUI. I’ve been able to do this because of the patient tutoring of my dear friend and co-founder Alex Nunes, and because I’ve tapped into feedback loops — the most powerful force in the universe.

The amazing thing about feedback loops

Have you ever wondered why we can learn foreign languages so much faster when living in a country than when trying to learn them at home or in class?

Learning anything new takes motivation. But when we mangle our Mandarin so badly that we can’t even order a bowl of noodles, then we run a real risk of starving on our backpacking tour of Sichuan. So we improvise — we point to food, with a hopeful look in our eye, and we listen attentively to the words we hear back. We nod cautiously as the vendor says something in response, and wait nervously to see what emerges from the kitchen.

Photo by GoodEats YQR on Unsplash

At last, when our steaming bowl of noodles arrives, we feel that warm glow of success and the quick hit of dopamine. We commit ‘Miàntiáo tāng’ to memory for the next time hunger strikes, and we search eagerly for other dishes to learn. The feedback loop of language acquisition through hunger has worked its magic.

Computers can serve you noodles. Instantly.

With coding, a computer server plays the role of our Sichuanese street vendor. Instead of cooking, our server is running code. And instead of a warm bowl of noodles, we get a beautifully rendered web page or application that looks exactly like we had hoped. But while our Sichuanese street vendor is quick to improvise and motivated to help, computers are stubborn and want things to be exactly how they should be, otherwise no soup for you.

“No soup for you”, a famous scene from TV show Seinfeld

Where computers beat street vendors is in the speed that they can, ahem, cook. The extreme of this is where every key stroke that you make is immediately compiled and rendered. Watching this unfold feels like magical voodoo, and is just the most perfect example of the power of immediate feedback.

When computers make you wait for noodles…

For my new company, mote, we’re working on a Chrome extension that users install in their browser so that they can make voice comments on collaborative documents. It’s really been fun to design and build, but the challenge is that the feedback loop is MUCH slower.

Unlike the website example shown in the video above, we can’t immediately run the Chrome extension in a browser environment to see how it functions. Instead, we write the code, check for errors and then have to compile the code locally to create a ‘build’ folder that we install and run inside Chrome.

End to end, this take about 1 minute, which is about 50X slower than the feedback cycle that we get with the website. The impact is enormous: our ability to iterate and improve the Chrome extension is dramatically slower than with the website, and my ability to learn coding skills is similarly impacted.

As with computers, as with life

Zooming back out, this experience has taught me the power of feedback in every part of my life as I seek to be a lifetime learner.

The best way for me — or you! — to learn fast is to build faster feedback loops into everything that we do, so that every day we learn as if we’re web-coding, not Chrome Extension coding.

Here’s three ways that you can accelerate your feedback loops

  1. Use collaborative apps that make it quick and easy for others to provide feedback. Our team uses Google Docs a lot, and we developed mote to make providing feedback through comments even easier by using voice notes.
  2. Express gratitude for every piece of feedback received. Even the ‘bad’ feedback. All feedback, good and bad, is a form of human “training data”, and all of it is valuable in some way. Learning to critically evaluate others’ feedback is an essential step on the way to expertise.
  3. Consciously think about finding ways to build feedback into your life. But always remember to be clear about what you’re trying to learn, and what kinds of feedback are going to be most useful. Not everyone is qualified to give you feedback on your Chinese language skills, for example.

Thanks for reading, and please check out mote if you’re interested in accelerating your feedback loops.